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How to Make Amends with an Estranged Sibling

by Freddie Silver

Sibling rivalries and squabbles are expected when children are young, but rifts in the relationship happen to adult siblings too. Perhaps your relationship was always rocky, but sometimes even a good, solid relationship can be torn apart by an insensitive remark, a slight or misunderstanding. But it can be possible to rekindle the bond with an estranged sibling if you really want to make amends and if both of you put the past behind you.

Know you're not alone. On her website, Jeanne Safer PhD, psychotherapist and author of "Cain's Legacy," a self-help book about sibling conflict, informs us that one third to 45 percent of American siblings experience problematic relationships. Common reasons for rifts include disagreements over sharing responsibility for elderly parents needing care and fights over dividing parental estates.

Think about your reasons for wanting the reconciliation. The sibling bond is often strong and it's usually the longest relationship you'll have. It's rewarding to enjoy a bond with someone who shared your childhood. After your parents die, you might yearn for a reconciliation with your estranged sibling. As you age, you might feel the need to reconnect before it's too late. Or you might want to reconnect so your children can maintain a good relationship with your sibling's children.

Recognize that the reconciliation process will be difficult. If you feel ashamed for your actions, it will take a lot of courage to initiate contact and admit your wrongdoings. The longer you've been estranged, the more difficult it will be. But don't get discouraged. Stay focused on your goal of making amends and know that a reconciliation is worthwhile.

Get yourself into the right frame of mind before you initiate any contact with your estranged sibling. In the Canadian Living article "How to Reconnect with an Estranged Sibling," psychologist Kenya Thompson-Leonardelli suggested letting go of your negative emotions before you speak to your sibling. Maintain focus on the future, and don't think about old hurts or anger from the past.

Call or send an email to your sibling saying that you'd like to arrange to meet. It's best to do this yourself rather than rely on another family member to act as go-between. But don't continue the discussion on the phone or by email -- that should be done face-to-face to reduce the chance of any misunderstandings.

Apologize for what you did wrong. Don't be afraid to admit the mistakes you've made. But don't dwell on details from the past. Let your sibling know you want to focus on moving forward.

Don't expect your sibling to accept some responsibility for the rift. Resist the temptation to remind your sibling of times you were hurt. It's best to avoid blaming your sibling when you're asking forgiveness. Your sibling might not yet be ready or willing to admit any mistakes, so avoid justifying your actions by accusing your sibling of equally hurtful behavior.

Accept the fact that the reconciliation process will take time. Don't expect an immediate return to a warm, fuzzy relationship, even if you used to have one. Realize it takes time to rebuild trust.

Remain positive and optimistic even when there are setbacks. Even if your sibling initially seems pleased by your attempt to make amends, there will probably be many ups and downs as your relationship progresses. Knowing what to expect can help you avoid giving up the first time your sibling disappoints you during the reconciliation process.

Call in professional help, if your sibling agrees. The counselor is an impartial third party who can help guide you both through the difficult self reflection that is necessary throughout the reconciliation process.

Tip

  • If your sibling isn't ready to accept your apology and forgive you, know when to give up and accept the reality that reconciliation might never happen.

About the Author

Freddie Silver started writing newsletters for the Toronto District School Board in 1997. Her areas of expertise include staff management and professional development. She holds a master's degree in psychology from the University of Toronto and is currently pursuing her PhD at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, focusing on emotions and professional relationships.

Photo Credits

  • Jose antonio Sanchez reyes/Hemera/Getty Images